They say those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. I believe this idea applies personally and it is true in your business life. If you want to go to the next level in your career, whatever that means for you, it’s a good idea to explore the history of your behavior and look for significant behavior-shaping people and events. Behavior related to people and events that have so far helped you succeed; and behavior that might be limiting your success.
Sometimes I work with people who are struggling with a bit of, shall we say, self-defeating behavior. Nothing serious, just little miscellaneous pesky behavioral issues that place limitations on the person’s true potential – the kind of issues that prevent salespeople from selling as much as they should, managers from managing as effectively as they should, etc.
When trying to identify these issues, I sometimes ask my clients to complete the following simple exercise: Divide the history of your life into five-year increments. For example, if you are currently 43 years old, label nine sheets of paper representing the five-year blocks of time that make up your life (0 to 5 years old, 6-10, 11-15, 16-20, 21-25, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40, 41-43).
Consider the various blocks of time one at a time and make notes on two things: Who were the most significant people in your life during that block of time and what were the most significant events in your life during that block of time? Dump all your thoughts out on the sheets of paper. Things related to good people and bad people – good experiences and bad experiences. Do not try to analyze anything at this point, jump dump it all out.
Once you have notes on all the people and events, then go back over the pages and think about the lessons learned (or not learned) from all these people and events. For example, did you learn to be organized, methodical, messy, spontaneous, cautious, daring, controlling, accommodating, detached, compassionate, creative, and so forth and so on.
By using this exercise, I have helped people identify the root cause of many forms of self-defeating behavior. For example, overly critical parents might cause someone to consider the price of a mistake too high. Maybe the parents meant well, but perhaps they were a little too forceful on the issue of “anything worth doing is worth doing right.” Everybody likes to get things right the first time, however, it is not always possible to do so. Part of learning and growing involves experimentation – which by definition involves trial and error. So people sometimes try too hard to get things right the first time. And this leads to unhealthy perfectionism – and this leads to procrastination, one of the most common forms of self-defeating behavior.
Have fun with the exercise. See if you can identify people and events that shaped your behavior. Understanding the source of such behavior often helps you minimize or eliminate it.
Chris Crouch is CEO of DME Training and Consulting and author of several books on improving productivity. Contact him through www.dmetraining.com.